Please help us, enthusiastic Star Trek fans!
April 7, 2009 8:10 AM   Subscribe

My gf and I are very exited to see the new Star Trek movie. Neither of us are, or have ever been, Star Trek enthusiasts. Prior to seeing the Watchmen, we read the book, and it was great. Help us prepare for this epic cinema experience.

We have committed to watching four episodes of any Star Trek series and one movie. What should we view? This thread gave me some basics - but I want to plan our pre-movie viewing for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I know that it would be worthwhile to read some of the books, but we're both graduate students so it probably won't happen.

Also, what's the best way to obtain individual Star Trek episodes for viewing?

We're not trying to become experts - but we both immensely enjoyed being "in the know" during our Watchmen experience and we'd like a cursory understanding before going.
posted by Baby_Balrog to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, I guess you should check out the best of TOS (The Original Series) -- The City on the Edge of Forever, written by Harlan Ellison. Then you might want to watch Space Seed, also TOS, and the best of the Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan, which is something of a sequel to Space Seed.

I personally am very find of Yesterday's Enterprise, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but you'll get a lot of varying input on this.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:22 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Because the movie is based on the original series, I think your best bet is to watch four of the best episodes of the original series:

"The City on the Edge of Forever"
"Space Seed"
"Mirror, Mirror"
"Amok Time"

And then Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
posted by ND¢ at 8:22 AM on April 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Fond, dammitall, not find. *sigh*

You can rent any or all of these from Blockbuster or Netflix. Your local library will probably have them, too.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2009

Nothing beats the original Star Trek tv series. The episodes are out on DVD so you could rent them or maybe download them from itunes or what have you.
posted by GleepGlop at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also agree with ND¢ on Mirror, Mirror and Amok Time. Great stuff.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2009

fwiw I found City on the edge of forever to be an overrated episode. In my mind it is much better to start at the beginning of the series than to watch the top five supposedly best episodes out of context.
posted by GleepGlop at 8:25 AM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: "The Best of Both Worlds" (TNG Episode) followed by First Contact. From what I know about Abrams and what little I know of the new film, I think these two would capture a similar feel.

Personally, and I think many who are far more devoted to the franchise than I would agree, Wrath of Khan is a better movie, but I don't think it would hold up as well to new viewers.
posted by mkultra at 8:27 AM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: Don't watch City on the Edge of Forever first. It stands alone as a story okay, but if the characters are utterly new to you, you will be missing a bunch of subtext. Wait until you know the characters a bit before watching that one.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:27 AM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: One way to watch them is here:

"The City on the Edge of Forever"
"Space Seed"
"Mirror, Mirror"
"Amok Time"
posted by ND¢ at 8:29 AM on April 7, 2009 [8 favorites]

IDW has released a prequel-to-the-prequel in comic book form: Star Trek: Countdown. I have read the first two (of four) issues and it is pretty good, although I don't know how useful it will be to you because it assumes the reader is already familiar with the Trek canon. Here is a review. It is also available on the iPhone App Store if you are so inclined.
posted by Bango Skank at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2009

I think everyone has nailed the best way to prepare for the movie, but I have to agree with Greg Nog. TOS is good, and Khan is one of the best Trek movies... but later seasons of TNG and DS9 are really where Trek shines.

I hope after you see the movie you'll be moved to check out some more.
posted by jrishel at 8:47 AM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: To see the cheesier side of TOS, you should watch "The Gamesters of Triskelion".
posted by rfs at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2009

If Netflix is your type of thing, the first season of TOS is available for Instant Viewing.
posted by booticon at 8:59 AM on April 7, 2009

Check out the first season of TOS plus "The Doomsday Machine," which was the most exciting action episode. From there skip to the classic "Spock Trilogy" of films II through IV. Ignore everything else between 1988 and 2009, it's rubbish!
posted by Kirklander at 9:01 AM on April 7, 2009

Via LJ's Startrek community, here's the spoilerfree word from someone who saw the movie: click.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:01 AM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: has a good primer.
posted by BadMiker at 9:07 AM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: Feh. Be forewarned that the The City on the Edge of Forever link ND¢ has posted leads to a stream that switches to "Assignment: Earth" halfway through! Quite aggravating, truth be told.

Not that I'm watching it at work or anything; someone told me.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:32 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another good episode (one that deals with Romulans, an alien species present in the new movie), is Balance of Terror. Other than that, the previous list is quite good.

I would personally recommend rolling up a joint before viewing in order to become fully immersed in the experience, but that's just me.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I were going to pick four episodes and one movie, the movie would of course be STII: The Wrath of Khan (though STVI: The Undiscovered Country, which has the same director, is also quite good).

Another good group of four episodes in addition to the lists above would be "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "Space Seed", and "The Corbomite Maneuver", all from season one, along with "Requiem for Methuselah," from season three. ("Requiem for Methuselah" isn't perfect, but it's interesting, and I'd argue that the development of the main characters changed significantly during the show's run, so a viewing of an episode from season three is useful.) However, you will almost never go wrong with an episode from season one of TOS (though season two is hit or miss, and season three is dire).

I suggest sticking with TOS if your aim is to prep for the movie. Subsequent reimaginings and additions to the Star Trek universe (TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT) can sometimes be more entertaining or richer than many episodes of TOS, but they're not the same (though I say this as someone who grew up watching TOS in reruns, and watched TNG during its original broadcast run). In particular, the traits that make DS9 enjoyable also make it "not actually Star Trek" to me.
posted by Prospero at 9:51 AM on April 7, 2009

My best friend is a huge fan of ST:ToS and I think he, of all the Star Trek fans, really understands what makes the show, and that is the fantastic synergy between Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Without that the show would have never taken off IMO. Also understand that the show is full of camp and does not take itself seriously.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:55 AM on April 7, 2009

avoid season three of tos like the plague. it is horrible.

we recently watched all three seasons on (well, the first one on netflix, because it's the remastered version and the remastering makes a hell of a difference). this was the first time i'd ever seen tos, and i enjoyed it more than i thought.

but season three explains why the show was killed, as it was horrible.

i agree with others above about which episodes to watch, though the tribble episode is fun and well-known.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:16 AM on April 7, 2009

Why am I the only one to suggest "Mudd's Women?" 60's sci-fi at it's best!
posted by fiercekitten at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2009

Stress on the 60's part of that.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2009

Pardon me for being blunt, but you've put forth weird requirements. 4 episodes and 1 movie? Why those exact numbers?

And I suppose I'm wondering: are you trying to fill in backstory for yourself on who these people are and why you should care about them in THIS movie, or are you trying to just get a feel of Trek?

Everything I've read has JJ Abrams saying that you can go into this movie knowing nothing. That said, from what I know of the plot and having read the prequel comics and so on, this movie will not require any knowledge, but will be enriched by any additional information you have.

Generally for a sense of the characters I'd go with the original trilogy, and for a movie I'd say the same. But that's not to say that additional resources like The Next Generation episodes and such wouldn't help.

So...tell me what your GOAL is and I'll provide more recommendations...
posted by arniec at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2009

Watch Galaxy Quest, avoid any of the "canon" Star Trek, and just enjoy the new movie when it comes out.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:26 AM on April 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

arniec, my guess is that the OPhas approximately 4 episodes and 1 movie worth if free time available to devote to TV watching before the movie comes out.
posted by jrishel at 11:51 AM on April 7, 2009

I think TOS episodes are on Hulu.
posted by thebazilist at 11:55 AM on April 7, 2009

I wouldn't watch anything. Just jump right in with both feet. I often wonder what it must be like to be my kids, to be experiencing things for the very first time again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:14 PM on April 7, 2009

I'd like to suggest that if you're only watching one movie, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the best Trek movie, narrowly edging out II.
posted by pts at 12:24 PM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: The episodes that are suggested above are pretty great, but there are better places to start for a basic understanding of the characters, their relationships, and the premises of the original series. (SPOILER ALERT: the links below contain spoilers.)

The Menagerie: This two-part episode (the only such episode in the original series) has an interesting history. It began as "The Cage", the first pilot for Star Trek; NBC rejected it as being "too cerebral", but invited Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, to rework and resubmit the idea; Roddenberry did so, creating new characters and recasting all the roles except for Leonard Nimoy as Spock. After the series started, Roddenberry decided to use parts of the pilot with new framing scenes with Kirk and the rest. Not only does it give some of the pre-Kirk history of the Enterprise (Christopher Pike, Kirk's predecessor as captain, will be in the movie), but it also gives you a sense of just how loyal Spock is, and what he is willing to sacrifice out of loyalty. (The second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", is mostly skippable; it's a middling action-oriented episode with some scenes that are incredibly sexist, even for the Sixties.)

The Corbomite Maneuver: This was originally planned to be the first broadcast episode, but got passed over for one that featured a cheesy-looking monster called the "salt vampire". The Enterprise encounters a starship from an unfamiliar alien species that is too big and powerful to defeat; how they get out of that no-win situation tells you a lot about Kirk and how he operates.

Balance of Terror: This has been described as a submarine movie in outer space, but it's a brilliant use of some of those tropes. It also introduces the Romulans (a Romulan is the villain in the new movie), and is also a good Spock episode.

Journey to Babel: Another strong Spock episode, featuring Spock's parents (they make a brief appearance in the movie), and a rare glimpse at the politics of the United Federation of Planets, Star Trek's United Nations-esque organization.

And, of course, if you have more time and/or inclination, watch "Space Seed", the episode that The Wrath of Khan is the sequel to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:25 PM on April 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am a loyal fan of the original, but I'll break from the pack and, given your limited time, recommend that you watch a couple original series episodes, and a couple from newer series'. It'd show you how things have changed and not changed over the years. Skip the movies, they've all sucked.

Also, if you're truly virginal in the ways of Star Trek, and especially if your tastes tend towards the highbrow, you should know that all Star Trek series' are, well, kinda dumb. You have to enjoy them for what they are, and not with much of a critical eye.

(I'm going to go hide now before the angry Star Trek hordes come to kill me.)
posted by serazin at 1:23 PM on April 7, 2009

Best answer: Star Trek (the Original Series) is a fun show to watch if you avoid the clunkers (about 1/2 the episodes). Like others, I don't know why you have a four-ep limit, but these are the eps I would recommend, in this order: The Menagerie (two parts), Balance of Terror, Galileo 7, Court Martial, Space Seed, The Devil in the Dark, The City on the Edge of Forever, Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, The Doomsday Machine, Journey to Babel, The Trouble with Tribbles, The Enterprise Incident, All Our Yesterdays; the movies The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country.

Stay away from any TOS episode that features an irrational god-like being or entity, a war between two cultures that only the crew of the Enterprise can stop, a planet that is inexplicably identical to some period of Earth history (e.g., Romans, Nazis, gangsters, the Wild West), or that includes the character Harry Mudd. Though I guess he's in The Trouble with Tribbles, so I broke my own rule.
posted by aught at 1:59 PM on April 7, 2009

Tribbles, Tribbles, AND A TRIPLE!

tribbles tribbles tribbles tribbles tribbles tribbles
posted by tzikeh at 2:51 PM on April 7, 2009

It's also fun to look out for the nations after which the different races are modeled, e.g.:

Klingons = (Soviet) Russians
Humans = Americans
Romulans = Japanese
Ferengi = Jews
Vulcans = ? (perhaps humorless Germans?)

Also, have you noted that the federation is basically a Socialist utopia?
There's extremely limited freedom of expression (you can't even choose the clothes you wear), and to have a career you need to join the military. Everything appears to be state-owned, including the dorky jumpsuits everyone is wearing. The health system is socialized (and working!). Also, there seems to be some sort of one-world government.
Only evil and/or deranged people (such as Q) are gay.
posted by sour cream at 2:58 PM on April 7, 2009

sour cream, I don't know if you're just trying to be funny or what, but your analysis of the Federation is completely off base. I don't even know (or really want to know) where "Only evil and/or deranged people (such as Q) are gay" comes from.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:10 PM on April 7, 2009

I think you're in a pretty cool position. You have the opportunity to watch Star Trek in chronological order. If I were you, I'd watch the new movie first, then go through the series and movies. (I'm a fan of Khan and DS9 fwiw.) Of course, for the full accurate chronological experience, you could watch Enterprise first, and then the new movie, but Enterprise sucks.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 3:12 PM on April 7, 2009

Vulcans = ? (perhaps humorless Germans?)

Vulcans = pointy-headed (eared?), emotionless intellectuals that deny their inner human impulses, needs and desires. They do the "man in search of himself" trope over and over and over again. Spock, Worf, Data, Odo, Dax, Seven of Nine, the Doctor, etc...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:28 PM on April 7, 2009

Response by poster: Hey everyone! These are all completely awesome recommendations and you have given me much to think about. I'll review this list with my SO and we'll probably get to work this weekend. I can't thank you enough for all your awesome help!

arniec: jrishel is correct. We debated and decided that we could commit to 4 episodes and a movie. This isn't to say that we won't watch more in the future - especially if the movie is completely awesome and we get sucked into it. FWIW I said the same thing about Cowboy Bebop and Robotech (just, like, two episodes man... that's all I'm watching) and now I've seen all of them repeatedly.

Thanks again to everyone who commented!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:02 PM on April 7, 2009

I thought the Vulcans were Brits.
posted by mkultra at 4:55 PM on April 7, 2009

Vulcans are also Jews. Nimoy has said as much and he invented the original Vulcan character (and is Jewish) This link details the origin of the Vulcan hand salute and if you scroll down he alludes to Judaism's influence on Nimoy. One reason TNG is annoying to me is they took some of the racialized symbolism of the original show and made it much more offensive. Here's one persective on the Jewish stereotype/Ferengi discussion.
posted by serazin at 6:27 PM on April 7, 2009

Another great cheese-fest is the third season show "The Way To Eden". It's like a Dragnet '67 episode in space !
posted by rfs at 8:43 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Only evil and/or deranged people (such as Q) are gay.

That was my problem with Battlestar Galactica.

Well one of my problems...
posted by rokusan at 3:02 AM on April 8, 2009

As I understand it, the new film is a reboot. It seems sort of unnecessary to understand the original series to "get" it.
Original skeletal plot + a heaping tablespoon of cynicism = 2000's reboot of a once successful franchise.
posted by plungerjoke at 12:21 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The new film would seem to kick the franchise off into a "parallel universe" direction, if I am reading some of the fan press correctly. I don't care, I would just like to see another good movie with these characters. I liked Trek a hell of a lot more when it was originally broadcast, mostly because I was a teenager and a lot less discriminating than I am now. That said, the better episodes, like Balance of Terror, hold up pretty well. The better movies do, too. It hardly need be said by now, but if you're looking for scientific rigor you're wasting your time. You knew that, of course. This is space opera and nothing more.

I suppose to really understand Trek you need to go back to Forbidden Planet.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:46 AM on April 9, 2009

One 2-part story that looks pretty important in relation to the new movie: "Unification" Parts I and II. These were the only Next Generation episodes to feature Spock. Picard and crew ended up helping him in a secret diplomatic mission to the Romulans.

Since the new movie involves old Spock (from the Next Generation era) and the Romulans, you'll want to check this out. It's also cool because it was one of a relatively small number of episodes featuring a crossover between the original series and one of the newer series.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:26 AM on April 9, 2009

Artifice_Eternity: It's also cool because it was one of a relatively small number of episodes featuring a crossover between the original series and one of the newer series.

And was way cooler than "Scotty gets stuck mid-transport".
posted by mkultra at 2:59 PM on April 9, 2009

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